The frescoes that Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—a surface measuring some six thousand square feet—are collectively not simply an otherworldly piece of art but also an inhuman feat of creation. Working on scaffolding and platforms that he engineered in order to scale a height of nearly seventy feet, Michelangelo, predominantly a sculptor up until that point, worked for four years, from 1508 to 1512, to complete the project. It was a tortuous process that was chronicled by Irving Stone in The Agony and the Ecstasy, the 1961 biographical novel on Michelangelo, and was also recollected by Michelangelo himself, who wrote a poem about the experience, excerpted here:
I’ve grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
More than twenty years after completing the ceiling frescoes, Michelangelo returned to the Sistine Chapel to create more artwork. Under the direction of Pope Paul III, he painted on the chapel’s altar wall The Last Judgment, a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the final judgment of man by God. The roughly 45-foot by 40-foot fresco features some three hundred largely naked, muscle-bound figures from all walks of life. The Last Judgment took Michelangelo five years, from 1536 to 1541, to finish, and when added to the chapel’s ceiling paintings, is arguably the pinnacle of Italian Renaissance art.
Every year, roughly five million visitors trek to the Vatican City, in Rome, to pass through the Sistine Chapel and marvel at Michelangelo’s work (as well as the work of other artists who are represented there, including the paintings of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Perugino, and the tapestries of Raphael). But after all the effort and expense, it can turn out to be somewhat deflating, because of neverending lines and the insufferable neck craning.
At least that’s sort of how it played out for Martin Biallas, the CEO of SEE Global Entertainment, a Los Angeles–based production company that creates themed experiences like Star Trek—The Tour, the Titanic Official Movie Tour, and Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures, which have been displayed at cultural institutions around the world. In reaction to a trip to the Sistine Chapel that Biallas and some friends made a few years ago, as tourists, he conceived of the idea to recreate Michelangelo’s paintings and display them in a more accessible manner.
Biallas licensed images from the Austrian photographer Erich Lessing, who the Vatican authorized to take shots after an extensive restoration of the chapel during the eighties and nineties, and converted them into life-size poly-canvas prints. The result is “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” a show that opened during the State Fair of Texas, in Dallas. The exhibition was recently extended into 2017.
“We have had many visitors mention that they have been to the actual chapel, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Biallas said. “Almost every single one says the same thing: they were able to pick up on so many details that they missed the first time around due to either being packed into the chapel like sardines, rushed through their experience, or not having eagle eyes.”
The exhibition is composed of 34 panels, brightly illuminated and rich with color. The only one that was modeled on a photograph taken before the chapel’s restoration is The Last Judgment, displayed to its full, grand scale. Thanks to the utilization of a second floor at the former Women’s Museum building, where the exhibit is housed, a better view of the top half of the painting is afforded.
The other panels, 27 of which are in the main hall and another 6 in an adjacent room, measure between twelve and eighteen feet tall. There is a total of 9 panels—scenes from the book of Genesis—suspended on trussing made to represent a ceiling but at a lowered height of fifteen feet. The rest are mounted on walls for visitors to approach and examine up close. Everyone must pass through black curtains to begin the tour, adding suspense to the reveal.
“People just literally sort of stand there for a second and catch their breath,” said Molly Fiden, the exhibition’s tour manager. “And I’m not trying to be overdramatic, but they do.”
It was Rafael Luna’s idea to bring Michelangelo’s work to Dallas. As owner of Strategic Events & Logistics, Luna has produced the Mundo Latino exhibition at the State Fair of Texas for the past twenty years. Each year, he picks a new theme related to Latin culture—like the accordion, a bullfighter, a mariachi. He contracted with Biallis, whom he had worked with before, to display the exhibition, thinking the Catholic subject matter would appeal beyond just the Latin community. During the installation, he got a pang of buyer’s remorse.
“One of my biggest concerns was the nudity,” Luna explained. “I kept saying, ‘Maybe people will be offended. Maybe I would be offended if I took my child.’ But the worry that I had did not happen.”
In the Sistine Chapel, taking photographs is strictly forbidden. At this exhibition, there are signs that instead encourage photographs. So go ahead with that selfie in front of The Last Judgment. Maybe even put it on your holiday card and see if you can trick a few people into thinking you were really in the Sistine Chapel, within arm’s reach of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
Fair Park, Women’s Museum Building, November 11 to January 8, chapelsistine.com
Other Events Across Texas
Up a Creek
The Waller Creek Conservancy is working to transform a neglected creek bed that knifes through downtown into an artery for parks, trails, and public spaces. To draw attention to this vision, there is the Creek Show, a ten-day run of illuminated exhibits installed throughout the property, viewable only in the dark of night.
Waller Creek, November 10–19, 6 p.m., creekshow.com
This Texan Is OK
The Hill Country singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard was born north of the border, but Texans haven’t held that against him. In fact, he has thrived here, releasing more than a dozen albums since the seventies, including his latest, The Ruffian’s Misfortune, which he will draw from during a concert in Houston on Sunday to celebrate his seventieth birthday.
The Heights Theater, November 13, 7 p.m., raywylie.com
For part one of The Marfa Triptych, a multimedia musical depiction of West Texas, the Austin composer Graham Reynolds, a collaborator of the filmmaker Richard Linklater’s, enlisted a fourteen-piece band for a performance held in November 2013, which was billed as “classic instrumental country meets Western soundtrack meets power jazz rhythm section.” For part two, in October 2014, Reynolds kept it relatively simple, playing piano solo outdoors at the Overlook at Mimms Ranch. For the third installment, occurring this weekend, Reynolds will top it all off with a bilingual chamber opera honoring the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Crowley Theater, November 11 & 12, ballroommarfa.org
The Best of the Wurst
If the election has left you anxious and susceptible to binge-eating, consider the final weekend of Wurstfest, the ten-day, Bavarian-inspired sausage and beer bonanza, whose FAQ page on its website states: “Smiles required.”
November 10–13, wurstfest.com
Don’t Remember the Alamo
In 1982 Ozzy Osbourne infamously peed on the Alamo cenotaph, but over time he has come to regret this error deeply, issuing a formal apology, donating money to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (then the keepers of the Alamo), and even filming a piece for the History Channel in which he expressed regret. So on Saturday, when he returns to San Antonio for the final scheduled U.S. date of the final Black Sabbath tour, everyone should welcome him with open arms and then immediately throw up the devil horns for songs like “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.”
AT&T Center, November 12, blacksabbath.com